Ruben Navarette should stick to his reliable shtick of “nativist”-bashing and leave the foreign policy talk to someone else. First, he hasn’t got his facts straight:
But Obama wasn’t hatching an invasion. He was talking about going into Pakistan if our military was in hot pursuit of “high-value terrorist targets.”
In fact, the speech that caused all of this was not referring to “hot pursuit” across the border, but included talk of a “sanctuary” that would be attacked in the event that Musharraf “failed” to do so. In other words, Obama would launch an attack into Pakistani territory, whether or not the Pakistani government gave its approval, and with no apparent concern for the aftermath of such an action. Specifically, he said:
If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.
Navarette enlightens us:
There is no target of higher value than Osama bin Laden, and our intelligence agencies say that he’s in the remote tribal areas of western Pakistan. Most Americans would probably agree that this is one person we have the right to pursue to the ends of the Earth. That includes going into Pakistan.
This is typical. Having so personalised all our conflicts and focused them on individual evil masterminds, we as a nation persuade ourselves that any action, no matter how ill-conceived or destructive it may be, would be justified for the sake of killing the archnemesis. There is, naturally, the appeal to the mob in the final resort, since there are not many good policy arguments to hand about doing what he proposes.
Let’s be clear: of course, Bin Laden should pay for what he and his have done. Virtually no one in this country questions the legitimacy or rightness of this. But, to follow Navarette’s view, this apparently trumps all other considerations and outweighs all other costs. It’s as if Navarette says, “Who cares if the action doubles or triples the strength of pro-Taliban forces? Why worry whether it helps bring about the fall of the government in Kabul or causes another coup in Islamabad? If you can take a shot at Bin Laden and company, it’s all good.” Such is the stellar strategic thinking of the Obamas and Navarettes of the world. This is exactly the kind of short-sighted, overly personalised vendetta-as-strategy that has mired us in Iraq and which continues to exacerbate the jihadi threat. What earns Obama’s proposal applause on some parts of the left and scorn across most of the spectrum is that it is somewhat unlike Bush’s current policy, which has plenty of its own problems. However, simply because a policy differs from the extremely poor policies of this administration does not mean that it makes sense.
This is a foreign policy approach that does not gauge a proposal by its merits, but rather by the people it annoys. If a really stupid policy idea happens to annoy neocons and Mr. Bush, Obama and company might think that it is a great idea because it is simply different from what has been done. This is actually to mimic the worst habits of the neocons. For years, neocons operated by arguing something like the following: “If someone with regional knowledge says something that we disagree with, it is obviously biased, left-wing and self-serving, so we must actively ignore people who know something about this part of the world. ‘Arabists’ and Foreign Service people are not on board with our agenda, and are therefore wrong about virtually everything. Whatever “realists” recommend, we must strive to do the opposite, especially when it involves stirring up conflict and overthrowing foreign governments. Wherever Clinton was too hemmed in by international rules and institutions, we will cast them off and do whatever we please. Knowledge and expertise are overrated; moral clarity is what matters.” Of course, I might very well find problems with the “realist” agenda as well, but that doesn’t mean that any and all critiques of the “realists” are equally smart or all alternatives are equally desirable. This should be obvious, but there are some Obamaphiles who are having difficulty grasping it.
But the Pakistani ambassador to the United States insists that, if the U.S. military went into Pakistan after bin Laden, it would destabilize the region and hurt relations between the two countries. In fact, Mahmud Ali Durrani told CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux that if the United States were to locate and kill bin Laden inside Pakistan it would so inflame the Pakistani people that it could actually hurt the war on terror.
Huh? Killing bin Laden would hurt the war on terror? And some presidential hopefuls consider these folks our friends, and others think these matters ought not even be discussed?
Suddenly, Barack Obama seems like the least-naive person in the race.
This is pretty straightforward: when the ambassador of a country that enjoys major non-NATO ally status with the United States says that X will harm relations between the two countries, it actually will harm relations between the two countries. This is not an empty threat, as our worsening relations with Turkey over the past four years because of Iraq should show. If the ambassador says that X will destabilise the region (which it probably would do in this case), you have to take that seriously, even if you end up deciding in favour of X. You might be able to argue that, taking all things into account, it is worth the risk, but to actively ignore the risk or pretend that there is no risk is absurd. To deny that Obama said what he, in fact, said is even more absurd, and that seems to be Navarette’s tack here.
Naturally, the Pakistani government is not going to encourage foreign military action on its territory. There is a significant measure of self-interest in all of this, but anyone who understands even a little about the politics of western Pakistan understands that the ambassador is not simply talking to protect his job. American military action on any large scale will stir up even more support for pro-Taliban forces, which represent a more enduring danger to the U.S.-backed government in Kabul. Provoking an even larger groundswell of support for pro-Taliban forces, or perhaps even triggering a major insurrection, inside a major allied state would be mad. What Obama proposed in his speech would risk doing this very thing.
Navarette muddles the issue again with this talk of “friendship.” Allied nations are not “friends.” States do not have “friends.” There are plenty of people in every U.S.-allied state who are not friendly towards our government or our interests, which is what you would expect, especially in light of recent events. The Pakistani government is telling us, quite plainly, that making these threats will weaken the position of the government there, worsen the scale and scope of the threat and ultimately make the government less reliable than it already is in fighting jihadis. That strikes me as a pretty good list of reasons why it is a very questionable proposal.
I would add one other thing: Obama is actually drawing a bit from the Clinton ’92 playbook in running “to the right” of the administration by issuing bold statements on foreign policy that try to paint current policy as weak or servile. Remember when Clinton was attacking Bush the Elder for “coddling the dictators” in Beijing? Who was it who then became one of Beijing’s most useful fools once in office? Naturally, it was Clinton. Supposing for the moment that this is electoral posturing, designed to make a Democratic candidate look “tough” and “serious” enough (while managing to have the exact opposite effect), we might expect any Obama Administration to be as blind to the flaws of Pakistan as Clinton’s was to those of China.
There is a new TAC coming out with my Pakistan column in it. Once it is out, I’ll talk a bit more about what I think our Pakistan policy should be.
Update: Musharraf explicitly rejects the possibility of U.S. strikes inside Pakistan, and is now contemplating declaring a state of emergency. This would be the place that Obama wants to take “action” in. According to the AP, Obama has some small part in this latest fit of panic:
Tariq Azim, minister of state for information, said some sentiment coming from the United States, including from Democratic presidential hopeful Barak Obama, over the possibility of U.S. military action against al-Qaida in Pakistan “has started alarm bells ringing and has upset the Pakistani public.”
Of course, the government is bound to blame someone else for their internal problems, many of which the Pakistani government has exacerbated through its heavy-handed handling of marginal regions. Nonetheless, the possibility that careless and stupid remarks by candidates in our election might worsen already tense situations should be sobering.